October 29, 2018 / 12:33 PM / 15 days ago

Myanmar garment workers demand sacked colleagues get jobs back

YANGON (Reuters) - Dozens of striking workers from a Chinese-owned garment factory in Myanmar marched to a government compound in Yangon on Monday, securing a late-night meeting with the city’s chief minister, as part of efforts to get sacked colleagues reinstated.

Workers from Fu Yuen Garment Co Ltd protest in front of the Yangon Region Parliament, in Yangon, Myanmar, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Staff from Fu Yuen Ltd factory, on the outskirts of the commercial capital of Yangon, have been demonstrating alongside other labour activists since August, after 30 members of a trade union were fired.

Shouting slogans outside the Yangon regional government compound, about 100 protesters demanded to meet Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, a protégé of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

After nightfall, the minister invited a group of workers inside for talks, which ended with protesters agreeing to disperse in return for a second meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are thinking a lot how we can help you,” Phyo Min Thein told them in the meeting, live-streamed on Facebook. “We have responsibilities not only to protect workers who are protesting but also to protect workers who are working.”

This month, dozens of Fu Yuen workers were injured when iron-wielding assailants attacked a crowd gathered outside the factory. Police said a fight had broken out after protesters urged employees still working to join them.

Myanmar’s textile industry is its top export earner after oil and gas, employing more than 450,000 people and generating more than $2 billion in exports last year.

Fu Yuen says it fired the workers for their “poor attitude” rather than because they belonged to a union.

“As the cost has been rising rapidly in the past few years, the factory had no choice but to lay off those workers with poor attitude at work while hoping to increase the productivity again,” Fu Yuen representative Janice Chan said on Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the sector could soon be at risk as the European Union considers whether to reinstate economic sanctions over the treatment of members of the Rohingya minority, potentially stripping the country of tariff-free access to the trading bloc.

Thet Hter Swe, a worker from the factory, said on Monday the protesters would accept only the reinstatement of the sacked colleagues and could not be bought off with compensation.

“We want to work with dignity, so we only ask to go back to work and to work with full workers’ rights.”

Reporting by Shoon Naing

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